If you’re looking for ways to introduce the teen in your life to immigration issues, you need to check out these 10 essential books about immigration for high school!
If you are a parent or educator of a high schooler, you know how hard it can be to find books that your teen is excited to read. These 10 essential books about immigration combine engaging real-life experiences with politics and history that are perfect for high school.
10 essential Books About Immigration for high School
As political upheaval, persecution, and the impact of climate change force countless people to flee their homelands, we must educate ourselves and our teens about immigration. It’s critical that we learn about the history of immigrants worldwide and seek to understand the current crisis that so many fellow human beings are experiencing.
It’s normal to watch news reports roll in, full of tragedy and horror, and feel completely overwhelmed. It makes sense that we want to protect ourselves from stress, fear, and despair. But sadly, this often looks like turning towards denial or settling into apathy.
We want to keep our loved ones safe and focus on positive things. But the question we must ask ourselves is: At what cost?
I believe the answer is simple. The cost is our humanity.
As much as we don’t want our teens to feel anxious, fearful, and depressed, avoiding the truth about the history of immigration and what it looks like in modern-day, begins to eat away at our humanity.
We must educate our teens about immigration, diversity, racism, and politics. This is the only way to raise educated and compassionate kids who will go out into the world with a sense of kindness and justice.
Starting with books is an excellent place to begin this process of learning and to instill a sense of compassion and empathy.
10 Essential Books About Immigration for High School
Please note: I find the following books to be engaging, compelling, and appropriate for the teens in my life. But please be sure to review these recommendations to assess how you feel using them with the teens in YOUR life!
1. Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card
by Sara Saedi
Sara is 13 and has just discovered that she is living in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. Her parents fled Iran when she was only two years old, but she had no idea that her family was undocumented until her older sister wanted to apply for a job but couldn’t because she didn’t have a social security card.
While Sara is terrified of being deported, she’s just as concerned about “normal” teenage things like dealing with acne, learning to drive, and having a boyfriend.
A touching and relatable story describing the fear and danger of living undocumented while also exploring typical American teen concerns.
2. First Crossing: Stories About Teen Immigrants
by Donald R. Gallo
A fascinating anthology packed with stories about teenage immigrants from different countries and situations.
From fleeing political violence in Venezuela to an adoptee searching for her Korean birth parents, we’re introduced to teens all around the world.
Unique situations, brave teens, and reasons for hope offer insight and connection
3. Once I Was You: A Memoir
by Maria Hinojosa
Award-winning journalist, Maria Hinojosa writes about her experience as a Mexican American growing up on the South Side of Chicago.
Maria examines the damaging rhetoric around immigration that has shaped America’s attitudes toward “outsiders” and the ways that immigrants have been, (and continue to be) harmed. She provides a thorough history illustrating how we got here and urging a call to action that we should all be taking seriously.
Maria Hinojosa also co-hosts the podcast, In the Thick, with Julio Ricardo Varela, which is an excellent resource to learn more about politics, race, and culture, from a POC perspective.
4. Interpreter of Maladies
by Jhumpa Lahiri
This compilation contains nine short stories exploring an array of Indian-American experiences. The characters include a young Indian-American couple grieving a horrible loss, a troubled young woman in India, a young white boy staying with an Indian university professor’s wife after school, and several more engaging experiences.
This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel!
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When Ifemelu and Obinze leave military-ruled Nigeria for the west, they are young and in love. Ifemelu goes to America, where she experiences racism and learns about the hardships of being Black in the U.S.
While Obinze had hoped to join Ifemelu, his options are scarce due to post-9/11 restrictions. So instead, he goes to London, where he lives a dangerous undocumented life. Fifteen years later, Ifemelu and Obinze are reunited in a newly democratic Nigeria.
A powerful and engrossing book about the hardship, bravery, and hope that is ever-present throughout most immigration stories.
6. The Education of a Wetback
by Marcos Antonio Hernandez
This fictional account of a young immigrant’s journey is compelling and engaging. In 1979 in El Salvador Toño has lofty goals. But he’s the son of a poor farmer, and he decides he should head north to Los Angeles to work towards a better future for himself.
Once he arrives in LA, he works under the table with the hopes of making enough money to send home to his family. But his illegal status always ends with rejection and he grows frustrated with feeling like he’s caught between two worlds.
This is an engaging illustration of the rampant prejudice and barriers that immigrants face while they work to pursue safety, freedom, and happiness.
7. The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens
by Brooke Hauser
This book recounts a year in the life of the students who are recent immigrants at Prospect Heights, an International School in Brooklyn. Altogether, these teenagers come from more than forty-five countries and speak more than twenty-eight languages.
Their individual journeys are remarkable and the obstacles they face often feel insurmountable. This is essential reading for all high school students (and their parents!)
A humanizing look at the obstacles newcomers to this country continue to face and how many defy the odds to overcome them.
8. The Undocumented Americans
by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
After the 2016 election, writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, who was on DACA, decided to write about being undocumented using her real name. She embarked on a cross-country trip to meet with and tell the stories of other undocumented immigrants.
The stories she shares illustrate the hardships, devastation, and resilience of the people she interviews. As she travels from New York to Miami, from Michigan to Connecticut, and beyond, we are drawn into the hopes and dreams of each immigrant and our shared humanity.
A meaningful combination of engaging reporting and compelling personal narratives.
9. The Book of Unknown Americans
by Cristina Henriquez
At age 15, Maribel Rivera experiences a horrible injury. Her family makes the difficult decision to leave behind their comfortable life in Mexico to risk everything and come to the United States to seek medical care for Maribel.
Once they arrive in the U.S., Maribel meets a boy named Mayor and their new friendship evolves into a love story. This romance results in complexities and repercussions that neither Maribel nor Mayor anticipates.
A beautiful novel describing the challenges of immigration, as well as the hopes and dreams so many immigrants, carry with them.
10. I Was Their American Dream
by Malaka Gharib
A wonderful graphic memoir that illustrates Malaka’s experience as an immigrant. As the daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams and strict ideals, she learns how to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, while also learning how to adapt to white culture to fit in.
Exploring questions about identity and culture, Malaka tries to understand how to navigate her family’s cultural values while also being a typical American kid.
A fascinating peek into the lives of modern immigrants and the children they raise.
Be sure to check out these other helpful posts for additional resources:
- 10 Important Books About Immigration for Young Kids
- 10 Life-Changing Books About Immigration for Middle School
- Important Antiracism Resources for Families
- How to Teach Your Kids About Racism
- Empowering Antiracism Books for Young Readers
- 10 Powerful Antiracism Books for Middle Schoolers
- 10 Important Antiracism Books for Teens
- My Visit to Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Camp
- 10 Important Books About Japanese Internment for Kids
I hope these books offer you and the teens in your life insight and understanding as you learn more about immigration!
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